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on 26 September 2011
When TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work containing sixteen numbers arranged in rows of four, it means absolutely nothing to her and she has no idea what to make of it.

On the same day, Fliss discovers she is going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving mothers wrongly accused of murder, when their babies suffered cot-death. The documentary is to focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines who are all now free, whilst Dr Judith Duffy who was involved in child protection, is under investigation for misconduct after trying her best to ensure all three women would be sent to prison for life.

For reasons only known to herself, this is not a project Fliss wants to be working on, but then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home and in her pocket is a card just like the one Fliss received, with sixteen numbers on it arranged in rows of four...

A couple of years ago I read one of Sophie Hannah's first novels, 'Little Face' and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then equally enjoyed subsequent novels 'Hurting Distance' and 'The Point of Rescue' and thought I had found a new author to enjoy. However, despite looking forward to reading the next novel from Sophie Hannah, entitled 'The Other Half Lives' I found I was left disappointed, as it was very poor compared to the previous novels.
So when 'A Room Swept White' was published last year, I hoped that this book would see a return to form for Sophie Hannah, but unfortunately I found that once again I did not enjoy the book.

Although the blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting and something I would enjoy, I found that right from the first page, 'A Room Swept White' was a very difficult book to get into.

The story is told in both first person from the view point of Fliss Benson and also the third person and right away I found the ditzy character of Fliss Benson, irritating. She also came across as incompetent and I found myself unable to believe in her character and given the serious and upsetting nature of the plot, it just didn't seem to fit. Even her 'secret' was a kept secret for too long in my opinion.
Fliss also is in love with her boss Laurie, but his character refuses to allow himself to be endearing to either her or the reader. I couldn't understand at all why Fliss was interested in him and it didn't make for interesting reading.
In fact, the characters in the book were really a big let down. Even the reappearance of "Snowman" Proust and detective couple Charlie and Simon from Spilling police station who have all featured previously in Hannah's other books could not save this story and their characters were far less interesting than they were previously.
Incidentally, this novel can be read without knowing about these characters in the previous books, as anything the reader needs to know is explained. And that was another let-down for me as I thought there was far too much needless information about Charlie and Simon's relationship and background included in this book, which prevented any suspense or tension building as it moves along at a snails pace.

Several times I put this book down and had to force myself to pick it up again and finish it. It was only the fact that I have enjoyed some of Hannah's previous books so much that I stuck with this one. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn't.
I also felt that the initial part of the book which intrigued me, in which various people were sent cards with numbers written on them, was not convincing. In addition, various aspects of the plot are simply left in the air. I could never fathom out why for example, the reason Fliss witheld some evidence from the police.
Nothing much seemed to be happening for long periods of the book and I simply couldn't believe in any of the characters, which was tiring and disappointing.
It was a struggle to read this book to the end and it certainly lacks the sharpness and readability of the author's earlier books.
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on 2 May 2011
I found this book almost unreadable, and in particular the characters of Ray and Angus Hines to be ridiculous.
The narrative meanders on, with police you would never want to investigate a crime you had suffered from, the murders, or rather the explanation we are supposed to credit, make little sense.
The behaviour of the policeman Proust would, one hopes, not be tolerated by his fellow officers.
The journalist Natrass is another absurd character.
Do not read this book!
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on 23 October 2010
I keep giving Sophie Hannah the benefit of the doubt, but yet again, I was left disappointed. I had taken this book on holiday, and so I had more time than usual to settle down to a good read, and to start off with it felt like a real page-turner. But the confusion of the second half of the book left me so confused, that although I stuck with it to the end, I felt completely let down. I won't mention any of the detail, as I wouldn't want to spoil it for those who do enjoy it, but there were so many gaping holes and unexplained twists that I was really only stumbling through the final chapters. Sorry Sophie, it looks like I have a downer on you - not so, I enjoyed your first novels, but this seems like a great story idea allowed to run amok.
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on 4 August 2010
I was really looking forward to reading this book - I thought the storyline sounded really interesting and it started well. However, it soon went downhill. I didn't particularly like any of the characters and found some of the 'twists' hard to believe. I felt the story didn't really go anywhere and lots of characters were introduced and ended up being pretty pointless. The ending was also disappointing. This was the first Sophie Hannah book I have read and, unfortunately, it hasn't made me want to read any more of them.
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on 26 September 2010
Sophie Hannah's books usually follow a similar pattern;a fascinating and intriguing initial premise that draws the reader in for at least half the book..then a gradual let-down and a slightly disappointing resolution to the mystery. This one was no exception. They are always well-written,and I could never put one down unfinished,but there were too many unresolved threads to the story. And is anyone else tiring of the dreadful sexist banter between the lesser police characters? Presumably meant to be gritty and realistic,it is neither. Stop it,please!
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on 27 October 2010
Having read and enjoyed many of her books this has got to be the biggest let down. The characters are unlikable with daft traits. The Snowman character is over described, yeah yeah we get the message he 'freezes' the room with his put downs. The joke is long over as described in many previous books. Yeah yeah we know Charlie and Simon can't 'get it on' and haven't for some time now. Could that not realistically be moved on now? Simon's hatred of the Snowman yeah we get the message. What angle are we meant to take on the truly wet Fliss? She is described like a heroine out a badly written for teenagers' novel. "Ooh I love him but he doesn't love me, does he even notice me, I stare at him all day," kind of narrative does nothing for me.

Oh yes, there's meant to be some page turning, gripping story amongst all of this. Well I'm sorry but the over characterisation of the characters gets in the way of what could be a great subject matter. We're so busy reading about Simon's red hot anger over the Snowman asking him to dinner there's no time to take in the story. I've got about 100 pages left to read and will endure it and be so relieved to be done with it. I don't think I even care how it ends. And I never want to encounter the blasted Snowman and his cronies again thanks!
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Having read Sophie Hannah's earlier "thrillers" I was keen to read this one in which she takes on the controversial issue of mothers (sometimes) wrongly convicted of killing their children. The way the novel is written is complex - snippets of interview transcripts, newspaper reports, book extracts, first person account, third party narration, and I'm not honestly sure what all this jumping about adds to the whole. Some of our favourite police officers (Simon, Charlie, Proust and the rest)from the earlier novels are here, but it felt to me that they were more in the background than the previous books which was a shame. The story begins with the murder of Helen Yardley, a woman convicted of killing her young babies(on the medical evidence of the soon to be struck off for malpractice paediatrician, Dr Duffy), and then released on appeal. In choosing her subject matter, Hannah has been able to discuss the problems of investigating sudden child deaths, and the way that the evidence provided by experts can be used and manipulated. All this was very interesting, but ultimately, I found this book unsatisfying because the characters (with a couple of exceptions) seemed two dimensional, and the final resolution fairly unlikely. There was almost too much plot, too many red herrings at the expense of the characters which let down the novel as a whole. This book is still worth a read if the subject matter interests you, but having read Sophie Hannah's other books, I felt a bit let down. I will be hoping for a return to form in her next book.
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on 17 January 2011
This novel had the material and the story-teller to make it exceptional but for me it was, at best, ok. It's actually easier to summarise it as a list of good points and bad:

1. I read it in one sitting. This is, by definition, a page-turner, which it a good thing. I think that was as much the power of the subject matter as the actual structure of the story; from the very first pages, you *really* want to know what's going on
2. The subject matter, while obviously a little disturbing for some, is quite dark but therefore intriguing; I was drawn in and fascinated and for those who consider it bad taste, I'd suggest they shouldn't have read it in the first place; it's obvious what it's about
3. The writer is clearly talented with a knack for getting on with the story, injecting pace, humour, depth and intrigue. It bumps along at a great pace but keeps you guessing, not so much in the 'red herring' way as in the 'I just can't work this out' way - the secrets are kept to the end, pretty much
4. The book uses book excerpts and interview transcripts from the characters which make it very interesting in structure; I liked the 'real life' flavour this peppered the story with

1. For me, it lost touch with reality a little. Every single character was flawed in a way that seemed melodramatic; I appreciate a mystery novel needs lots of intrigue and, subsequently, unusual characters, but the novel could have done with one or two totally normal people. On at least five occasions I wanted to tell the heroine to get a grip on herself; her behaviour was truly absurd at times. The police chief was so stereotypically horrible that it irritated me: do all fictional police chiefs have to be irascible, cantankerous, arrogant, emotionally bereft megalomaniacs? Also, regarding another character, we are meant to believe that an outwardly normal, grown-up police officer with no apparently strong religious motivation has been with his girlfriend for years without ever sleeping with her. This makes them both odd in ways that are not explained. Perhaps the characters appear in other books by this author but since this is the only one I intend to read, even a brief explanation / reference would suffice, along with some kind of revelation about the underlying reasons for the strange relationship between the police officer and the police chief. All of these relationships are intriguing, if a touch unbelievable, but never given meaning. Perhaps the most annoying characterisation is that of Ray Hines; without revealing any spoilers, her behaviour and motivation is simply incomprehensible but the author takes no trouble to explain why this character is the way she is
2. Too much is left unexplained. The book deals competently with so many interesting themes and relationships and fails to tie the majority of them up satisfactorily
3. The 'whodunnit' part is the most disappointing element. It didn't make sense to me, I felt it was a weak way to limp towards a tame conclusion

So, worth a read for the page-turning aspect but, overall, a very average addition to the mystery / crime shelves.
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2010
Although I liked this book it had its faults. The main character 'Fliss' did get better, but for most of the book she was written as a very inexperienced and ditzy type which did get a bit annoying. I'm not sure anyone could be more dislikable and pointless than Laurie though! Infact other than possibly Charlie and Simon there were no real likeable characters.

The genre felt like a cross between real life story and thriller and overall it was probably successful....not overly sentimental or graphic. However, some things were left unexplained...such as the character of the Snowman (whom I liked but who also never really led to much) and the relationship between him and his officers, which seemed realistic, but I didn't understand why he came down so heavily on one view point and I felt this was never really explained.

The subject matter and legal/court descriptions were believable and actually gave a good insight into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and the effect it can have on relationships as well on the women accused of murdering their own children. There is nothing quite as emotive as the fear of having our children taken away from us. So the idea of an individual being blamed for the death of a child when they're innocent and grieving and no one believing them is really quite scary.
The reason behind the murders seemed far fetched but to give it it's due it kept my interest.
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on 29 August 2012
I have to agree with a lot of the negative comments here. I have read most of Sophie Hannah's other thrillers and really enjoyed them. In this book, the plot seemed to be all over the place, too many characters, and the explaination of the killer's reasoning long and over-complicated. I felt myself getting bored 100 pages before the end. Also, I was totally confused by the author's theories about the deaths of Hines babies, and the various medical explainations, (SIDS or vaccations?), I can't see what this brought to the book. Very disappointing I'm afraid, but I will continue to read her books!
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